Taking your own life

Regular readers of this Blog will have noticed that I am definitely well aged. I was 73 when it started, and I am now 86. An old man. I am fortunate that, apart from difficulties of memory, I still seem to be fit. Moreover, I have children in the neighborhood and so, even in this difficult time, I am looked after exellently well. How long will this last? Two years? Five years? Ten years? All my children will have retired — and, indeed, being helped themselves by my fourteen grandchildren. To say nothing of a growing group of great grandchildren.


And so I am interested in the current political question of allowing the old, and perhaps sick, to take their own lives. Or, indeed, to materially assist such a person. (see the link below to a summary of the law). Some opponents of this change point out that, in the original debate on the legalisation of abortion, it was argued that it would only be in a few serious cases. The current rate of abortion for England and Wales is about 200,000, under the seven grounds permitted. (link below)


While I am confident that that my family will be faithful in their care right up to my natural death, I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel?

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/euthanasia-and-assisted-suicide/


https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/891405/abortion-statistics-commentary-2019.pdf

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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67 Responses to Taking your own life

  1. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/ ) :

    // While I am confident that that my family will be faithful in their care right up to my natural death, I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel? //

    Thank you, Quentin, for opening this thorny, timely, and important issue here. I hope the discussion will be free and fruitful.

    One initial thought of mine is that in following their accustomed activity of instinctively pursuing material progress, technologists have pretty much obliged humans to live unnaturally long, and that when they discovered that this was widely perceived as an undesirable consequence of an otherwise unquestioned good, they have offered what must seem to them an acceptable fix. The goal was technological, the achievement was technological, and their fix is technological.

    Technology is Pandora’s Box. Humans apparently cannot resist opening it, and once it’s open, they apparently cannot resist its power to control their lives.

    Should I have the good fortune to live among humane and caring people as I age, I hope they will not conspire to have me murdered.

  2. David Smith says:

    Oh, guilt. No, I will feel guilt for living past my discard-after date only as all who age in this instrumentalist culture and society must feel it, since the blame is always there, in the air.

  3. galerimo says:

    Starting a blog at 73 is a great achievement, even with other, previous life achievements. I find it encouraging to read about such flourishing in later life.

    I think, a deep regard for the sacredness of human life is also a feature of eldering, and that’s not to say that such concern is confined to any single stage in life.

    The elders serve our community as gatekeepers in this way. They hold our shared values in a special way, even it it is not one that can be measured in terms of productivity or material contribution.

    Yes, voluntary assisted dying is moving, more and more, into legislation here too.

    Your point about becoming a burden on family is certainly valid as a consideration. My experience, however, is more heavily weighted on the other end of that scale.

    So often it is the family, the NOKs (Next of Kin) who want to prolong the life of their elderly relative, trying everything to keep them alive even when there can be no realistic prospects of recovery to any functional degree.

    It can be more about the emotional needs of the family. An elderly dying patient deserves to be treated in a way that recognises their time to die.

    Intensivists too, can become obsessed with keeping life going with the people are under their care with amazing drugs available to help them to do so.

    Intensive care of elderly patients who are at the end of their biological life can be very stressful and impose a burden on such patients.

    Perhaps our advances in end-of-life care, and I certainly am grateful for them, can sometimes be counterproductive.

    Life does have its boundaries too. And forcing a clinical survival, beyond what a reasonable person would consider appropriate, could also be seen as an act of abuse.

    So my feelings, are mixed. At least for now.

  4. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63473 ) :

    // The elders serve our community as gatekeepers in this way. They hold our shared values in a special way, even it it is not one that can be measured in terms of productivity or material contribution. //

    With respect, galerimo, nonsense. There is no longer a shared “we”, just my group and yours, and the members of one barely speak civilly to the members of the other. The overwhelmingly dominant culture forced on everyone today – your culture – has zero use for yesterday. History is a waste, experience is useless, a burden and an obstacle. Everything of value is new, just out of the box. Well, I see that you do carefully concede this in your “even if” clause above.

    “The elderly” are human beings, children of God. *That* is why they matter.

    • galerimo says:

      “The elderly” are human beings, children of God. *That* is why they matter.”

      – sounds like a piece of wisdom consistent with any elder experience !

  5. Alan says:

    Someone asked me before about how/whether I valued life when the topic of wanting to be born regardless of the life to be led came up. I didn’t reply at the time because the answer became too long and yet still didn’t cover what I wanted to say. I will try again in brief.

    On the subject of abortion or euthanasia the issue of numbers seems to come up regularly. Intentionally or otherwise – “How many deaths does/might this lead to?” is often asked here in one form or another. Following a link someone posted in the past I came to a site that was calculating the number of manhours lost as a consequence of abortions. I don’t think this seemingly “Never mind the quality feel the width” perspective is the way I value life. Whoever asked me the question pointed out examples of people who enjoy life despite suffering what others might consider serious or overwhelming hardship. But these aren’t the only examples of how people value their own lives. I’ve known two people, one middle aged and one likely somewhat nearer the end of her natural life, that considered what their remaining years were liable to be like and decided they weren’t worth enduring. With more of a sense of life’s value being to do with the experience of it rather than the sacredness or volume of it, it isn’t apparent to me that the latter decision is the wrong one in all circumstances.

    I can’t know what another is actually thinking. I couldn’t be certain that someone didn’t mistakenly feel like they were a burden and that this might unreasonably sway their view. Nor could I be sure that there were sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of any system. These are just a couple of things that make it difficult to be entirely comfortable with the idea of euthanasia but, with some small amount of experience, there doesn’t look to be a comfortable option.

  6. David Smith says:

    Alan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63482 ) :

    // Following a link someone posted in the past I came to a site that was calculating the number of manhours lost as a consequence of abortions. I don’t think this seemingly “Never mind the quality feel the width” perspective is the way I value life. //

    Nor I. Yet this seems to be the standard acceptable way of dealing with all issues. I’m afraid it’s baked into the materialist mindset that surrounds us and determines so much of how the modern West is designed and managed. The institutional Church is caught up in it, too, most regrettably but probably inevitably, since it’s run by thoroughly modern men.

    // I can’t know what another is actually thinking. I couldn’t be certain that someone didn’t mistakenly feel like they were a burden and that this might unreasonably sway their view. Nor could I be sure that there were sufficient safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of any system. //

    Too many systems, too many controls, too many laws and regulations, too much managing of human beings as though they were lab animals (and too much managing of lab animals as though they were inherently disposable objects, but that’s another topic). Our death is as natural as our life, and the state has no business trying to control it. Quentin’s question – “ I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel?” – is one that probably most of us ask, because we’re taught to ask it, by all the propaganda arms of this materialist culture, most intensely by government itself, which, while spending our money like a drunken sailor, persistently rationalizes its improvidence with the familiar “Never mind the quality, feel the width”.

  7. ignatius says:

    Take your own life if you must but do not ask the State, or your family, to collude with you. I have sat on the other end of the phone with people, people in the process of suicide yet not wishing to die alone. Suicide is forbidden for good reason but like all other sin it is forgiveable..”Father forgive them for the do not know what they do”
    Most likely I hold strong views on this subject because I have known near suicidal despair myself and I have come across it many times in others during the course of my time working for Samaritans or in the context of Prison Chaplaincy. Suicidal ideation is to be acknowledged but then resisted not encouraged. Yes there is the problem of intractable illness and also the problem of the act itself in that successful committing of suicide is not as easy to accomplish from a practical perspective as one might think; failed hangings or overdoses for instance. Catholics are asked to consider a good death as their aim, which means endurance and submission to the fullness of life, I guess this involves guts and trust. As to not wanting to be a nuisance to others…I think this is is at root the carefully masked excuse of pride.

  8. galerimo says:

    As the sun was setting one Wednesday evening on the Caribbean Island of Martinique there could hardly be found a more miserable man than one Afro-Caribbean, Auguste Cibaris.

    He was in jail, in the town of St Pierre. At 8.03am the following morning, the island’s volcano, Mount Pelee, erupted and killed 30,000 people.

    His cell was a dark, damp underground cave hewn out of stone, somehow it protected him from the pyroclastic cloud that killed everyone else. He had been awaiting his execution

    – at sunrise, on that day, no one in the town of St Pierre could have been more certain of their death than Auguste, but he was the sole survivor.

    A moment in history that illustrates how uncertain is death’s arrival.

    It seems part of the definition of being human that, while we know we will die with absolute certainty we cannot know, when. And so, to assert any control would be meaningless.

    We do have control over the dying process, we can make it as comfortable as possible and support the dying with love and kindness. Dying is part of our humanity.

    But to seek to alleviate suffering by killing the sufferer or aiding them to kill themselves is an attempt to try to exercise a control that we simply do not have.

    At the very least, it is inhuman.

    Furthermore, there is striking imbalance between campaigning for voluntary assisted dying when there remains a great need for palliative beds. These are in short supply here.

    Palliation has made great strides forward in recent years and I feel, should have more prominence in the current discussion around VAD in the wider community.

  9. ignatius says:

    When considered a little further it may be argued that suicide is rational. We can make the case that suicide is a thoroughly decent process and one which comes from great and noble souls. Why not recognise the endpoint of one’s usefulness both to self and to others? Why not prevent further suffering by taking responsibility for ones life in the fullest sense? Why not lay down one’s own life in order that others may live a fuller life without the burden of those more useless …..why not, indeed? surely there is nothing to be said against this most considerate of actions…lets all take the pills now… are you ready?

  10. ignatius says:

    Alan writes:
    “With more of a sense of life’s value being to do with the experience of it rather than the sacredness or volume of it, it isn’t apparent to me that the latter decision is the wrong one in all circumstances…”
    Taken from the point of view outlined above there is nothing to say that taking ones life is a ‘wrong’ decision at all. I have a respect for that kind of decision and also for those partners who might be drawn into colluding with their loved ones wish. Also that the life filled with suffering of whatever nature, may actually become intolerable. At the very edge of things then the decision is genuinely ours to make according to the person we are.

  11. David Smith says:

    We seem to be talking mostly about emotions – how we “feel”. I realize that was Quentin’s final question – “How would you feel?” – but even though our dominant culture is heavily weighed toward emotions – almost to the exclusion of the duties that in traditional morality weigh much more heavily – is there no place in this discussion for dispassionate judgement?

  12. ignatius says:

    The subject is hardly one of dispassionate judgement but yes, lets do some of it then! How do we start?

  13. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63512 ) :

    // The subject is hardly one of dispassionate judgement but yes, lets do some of it then! How do we start? //

    The sanctity of life, the fifth commandment, the slippery slope, materialism, utilitarianism, atheism, agnosticism, technocracy, democracy, majoritarianism, totalitarianism, the mature conscience, schism, sacrifice, obedience, respect for God in the human being, free will, morality, immorality, Catholicism?

  14. Geordie says:

    Well said, David Smith

  15. Quentin says:

    Just testing.
    Quentin

  16. milliganp says:

    The posts above have raised a number of issues in my mind but I have difficulty deciding to which I should respond so I’ve decided just to post something from my own experience.
    For the last 3 years my sole ministry, as a deacon, has been acting as minister at funerals. Most of my funerals are for families who have lost any practice of faith. I do three rites; Catholic and Church of England for the South London white communities and free-form Christian for the Caribbean.
    Most of these funeral are for people who’ve made it to their 80’s and 90’s. Even if a person has made it to 98, there are still family members weeping at the loss – often great-grand-children. Many of the deceased have had a period of dementia or extreme old age. I’ve never had a family even use the words ‘welcome release’ , grief is still the most common response.
    I think we underestimate the natural conservatism of the poor and working classes. The woke elites dominate the social conversation. For those who post here from outside the UK, we’ve just had a by-election in a ‘safe’ Labour Party (socialist) constituency which was won by the Conservative Party almost certainly because the Labour Party is so out of touch with its core supporters.
    We need to find a way of re-balancing the conversations in our society so that ‘ordinary’ people get heard. I’m sure the outlook would be less bleak.

    • Alan says:

      milliganp – “I’ve never had a family even use the words ‘welcome release’ , grief is still the most common response.”

      Grief is certainly the common response which dominates initially. But my wife expressed a sentiment similar to that of it being a “welcome release” when her mother died and I welcomed the relatively short time my own mother suffered serious illness before she died. It wasn’t a view for either of us that came up with family or friends or anyone else around the time of the funerals though. This is my experience at least.

      • ignatius says:

        “milliganp – “I’ve never had a family even use the words ‘welcome release’ , grief is still the most common response.”
        I have taken a few funerals (including my father’s) and assisted at several more. In my own experience the expressions of release and relief generally take place later either between spouses and families at home or else voiced during the ‘wake’ gathering. But I have had the expression ‘welcome release’ several times expressed to me Funerals are both very public and intensely private events and most likely each gathered group has its own set of more’s as to how to behave and what to discuss.

  17. ignatius says:

    David writes:
    “The sanctity of life, the fifth commandment, the slippery slope, materialism, utilitarianism, atheism, agnosticism, technocracy, democracy, majoritarianism, totalitarianism, the mature conscience, schism, sacrifice, obedience, respect for God in the human being, free will, morality, immorality, Catholicism?”

    Ah, sorry, when you spoke of ‘dispassionate judgement’ I thought you were intending to take a walk through the ethics of assisted dying. The principal objection to viewing things from the standpoint you take here seems to me that of the simple dilemma of existential concerns set against ideologies or abstract concerns. By this I mean that the issue of whether to take ones own life or assist another to take their own is, in the UK at least, mainly an existential one. By this I mean a response predicated strongly upon the on -the- ground- praxis of the individual/group facing the possibility of the action. This is not really the terrain of ‘should’
    In Britain the law regarding assisted dying is, if I am correct, fairly clear and still remains along the lines of:
    ‘Thou shalt not kill but needst not strive, officiously to keep alive’

    I watched this process applied to my father recently. It is in my considered view the best principle to operate from. I say this from a position of having had experience in hospital chaplaincy and of, many years ago, having spent 2 years in Nursing.
    So the decision about what actually to do in what may appear as a grim situation is existential in nature. All the should’s only apply to a limited degree and I would suggest that most people are cognisant of them and able to weigh the flock of conflicting demands quite well. Personally I would never support a Bill to legalise assisted dying and nor would I support a bill to bring back the Death Penalty, the potential damage to individual and State is too great. A to whether this is due to my Catholicism, I do not know.

  18. Geordie says:

    ignatius
    I find it difficult to understand the above comment. Can you translate it into simple English please?

  19. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63519 ) :

    // Ah, sorry, when you spoke of ‘dispassionate judgement’ I thought you were intending to take a walk through the ethics of assisted dying. //

    Well, that, too.

    // In Britain the law regarding assisted dying is, if I am correct, fairly clear and still remains along the lines of:
    ‘Thou shalt not kill but needst not strive, officiously to keep alive’ //

    As I vaguely remember, some news out of Britain in recent years has highlighted in a couple of instances a determination on the part of the powerful medical technocracy to kill a few children their parents wanted very much to let live. That seems to be striving rather officiously in the other direction.

    Along with Geordie ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63522 ) I became lost in what felt at times like a verbal thicket. As you’re discussing some very important stuff, I second his motion :o)

    • ignatius says:

      David writes:
      “Along with Geordie ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63522 ) I became lost in what felt at times like a verbal thicket. As you’re discussing some very important stuff, I second his motion :o)”

      Yes, happily, David Just quote the bits that lost you and I will clarify.

    • Alasdair says:

      David “news out of Britain in recent years”.
      On my trips to the USA in recent years (not the most recent years obviously) I was unable to find news out of Britain (nor indeed out of my wife’s native Italy). It was a surreal. I returned home to discover that there had been major political changes, wars and rumours of wars, environmental disasters, and multiple “‘–gates” of national and international significance, and several personalities of national importance had died and others been found guilty of heinous crimes, disgraced, and jailed. All only slightly exaggerated! All of that information appeared to be inaccessible to me as a house-guest with limited access only to the US TV channels’ offerings. It could be that the US population are able to keep themselves appropriately informed about issues in other countries, but I didn’t find that to be the case.

  20. David Smith says:

    milliganp writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63518 ) :

    // We need to find a way of re-balancing the conversations in our society so that ‘ordinary’ people get heard. I’m sure the outlook would be less bleak. //

    Indeed. Our world seems to be moving rapidly toward becoming a dictatorship of technocrats. We ordinary folks are not overly sanguine about that.

  21. Geordie says:

    Ignatius, here’s one paragraph I don’t understand.
    “The principal objection to viewing things from the standpoint you take here seems to me that of the
    simple dilemma of existential concerns set against ideologies or abstract concerns. By this I mean
    that the issue of whether to take ones own life or assist another to take their own is, in the UK at least,
    mainly an existential one. By this I mean a response predicated strongly upon the
    on -the- ground- praxis of the individual/group facing the possibility of the action. This is not really
    the terrain of ‘should’”
    What does it mean?

    • ignatius says:

      Ok, thanks Geordie,
      I was replying mainly to David’s comment that I quoted, this one:

      ““The sanctity of life, the fifth commandment, the slippery slope, materialism, utilitarianism, atheism, agnosticism, technocracy, democracy, majoritarianism, totalitarianism, the mature conscience, schism, sacrifice, obedience, respect for God in the human being, free will, morality, immorality, Catholicism?””

      To me this list of ‘isms’ is a bit like a bag of labels. Each label, take totalitarianism’ for example represents a great tangle of stuff which may form a backdrop to the situation potential suicide, call them X, finds themselves in, but is largely irrelevant to the choice before them.
      The choice X faces is very simple. Will X swallow the tablets? jump off the cliff,? smother his father with the pillow when asked?..or what? Will X act or will X go to sleep /get drunk instead? In other words the choice before X has little to do with technocracy, democracy, totalitarianism, nor is it much concerned with a mature conscience. X stands there, probably in a state of emotional turmoil possibly masked by a cold rationality, X needs to make a decision.
      This is why I say that the issue for X is an existential one-it is not a matter for moral theology philosophy or ethics but one of practice; what will X physically do? So what anyone, X included, reckons about ‘should’ is no longer pertinent. When we reach the crux of an issue most of us will have already been through the ‘shoulds’ till we are blue in the face. Suicide, assisted or not, is not something carried out on a sudden whim by an otherwise healthy and sane well balanced individual. So when push comes to shove the wider sociological/psychological/political/religious implications fade away into the background and become irrelevant.
      In the UK the law is the law and remains so as whatever it is when X takes action, so does everything else..the only thing that matters at that moment is the act.

  22. Quentin says:

    In the midst of this difficult discussion I cannot resist mentioning my visit yesterday from Otis (plus Mum). He is four months old. He recognised me immediately with a big grin. We spent an hour fooling about, we tore up the Daily Telegraph (great sport); we talked to the cat — and generally we fooled about. I am determeined that my great grandchildren will have at least some memory of me. We are a family who love one another.

  23. John Nolan says:

    ‘Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive
    Officiously to keep alive’.

    Often quoted out of context, and even with approval, missing the point that Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) in ‘The Latest Decalogue’ was being ironic.

    ‘Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat,
    When it’s so lucrative to cheat’.

    And

    ‘Honour thy parents; that is, all
    From whom advancement may befall’.

    Judas Iscariot was held to be condemned not for betraying his Lord – he repented of it – but for his committing suicide. Shakespeare’s contemporaries, contemplating Romeo and Juliet, would have been in no doubt that the ‘star-crossed lovers’ went straight to hell, despite the fact that their deaths reconciled the two warring families.

  24. ignatius says:

    John Nolan writes:
    “‘Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive
    Officiously to keep alive’.

    Often quoted out of context, and even with approval, missing the point that Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861) in ‘The Latest Decalogue’ was being ironic”

    Thats quite an interesting example of change of use, John. I’ve only ever heard it used as face value and not as pejorative irony. To me, if you take away the implication of cynicism, the phrase is very apt. Most of us will, I guess, have had the conversation with the consultant about at what stage to stop ‘trying’ to insert or keep in the cannula or nasogastric tube or whatever device which is being unsuccessfully applied to a delirious parent or grandparent on some short staffed medical ward or another.

  25. galerimo says:

    I see an honouring of life as part of our ageing process.

    How much our concern to promote and sustain it is even more manifest as we approach our own death times.

    I hear it in those comments like “she had a good innings at her great age” or “her death is a welcome release”.

    I think I detect feelings and judgments around the wonderful gift of life and living it to the full, in such comments.

    But our times are advancing.

    Why does this deep concern for life experience, as it is ending, not go further?

    We seem to be still stuck in this anthropocentric world view that stops us from showing the same concern for the extinction of many species, besides our own.

    There are few in our Catholic tradition who seem to realise how abortion and other, not so voluntary means of dying, are also part of processes of elimination of sacred life.

    We ourselves can be the means of killing off the flora and fauna, the environment of air and waterways, the atmospheres and life systems of other kind, while sounding off on our Judaea-Christian pro-life values.

    Can we wake up to the fact of how we are taking our own lives – maybe even when we ourselves are long dead, when the world we have created goes on aborting forms of planetary life?

    Not a good feeling!

  26. John Nolan says:

    galerimo

    A world view can only be anthropocentric, since only man is capable of formulating one.

  27. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63539 ) :

    // Thats quite an interesting example of change of use, John. I’ve only ever heard it used as face value and not as pejorative irony. To me, if you take away the implication of cynicism, the phrase is very apt. //

    But don’t you think it deserves the irony? If I heard a physician say it, I’d be inclined to steer clear of her.

    “What do you think we ought to do here, Doctor Grier?”

    “I think the rule of thumb in these cases, Doctor Van-Tam, must always be ‘Thou shalt not kill, but needst not strive officiously to keep alive’. Reasonable precedent clearly favors what that implies. The family will have to be made to understand”.

  28. John Nolan says:

    Ignatius

    An inability to detect irony and other rhetorical techniques seems increasingly widespread, even among reasonably literate people. In some cases this literalism is consciously adopted for purposes of detraction.

    Recently Boris Johnson was taken to task for allegedly saying last autumn that he would rather see bodies piled up in the streets than enforce a second lockdown. This was not a public statement, and within days he announced a second lockdown (November 2020) which didn’t work anyway.

    Johnson was using hyperbole, a rhetorical device to emphasize his personal distaste for putting the entire country under virtual house arrest.

    And don’t get me started on the millions who say ‘literally’ when they mean ‘metaphorically’.

    At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that grief over the demise of elderly relatives was tempered for many people with relief. Relief that their inheritance would no longer be eroded by care home fees.

    • ignatius says:

      “At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that grief over the demise of elderly relatives was tempered for many people with relief. Relief that their inheritance would no longer be eroded by care home fees.”

      Ha Ha! Yes thats part of the equation..I was going to have to fund my dads care and was relieved to a degree not to have to and the money we saved could go instead to nursery fees for my grandson….Not sure how cynical all that is, just the way we are.

    • Alasdair says:

      Yes, heaven help any and all of us (literally or metaphorically?) if past not-for-the-public irony, hyperbole, and rhetoric were to be leaked.

  29. David Smith says:

    John Nolan writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63543 ) :

    // At the risk of sounding cynical, I expect that grief over the demise of elderly relatives was tempered for many people with relief. Relief that their inheritance would no longer be eroded by care home fees. //

    I’m disappointed and discouraged by a tendency of the modern mind to separate life into discrete pieces and to rank them in importance. I suspect that it comes at least in part from the mechanistic way schools teach and from the constant impatience of a hyper-jittery world to be done with one thing and to get on with another. A metaphor that works for me in this regard is the transition in music reproduction technology from analogue to digital. It sometimes seems to me that mankind is determined to turn everything in the natural world into a plastic representation of it and then to discard the natural and live, fully satisfied, in a purely plastic world.

    If you don’t see how I got off onto this tangent, please just disregard this posting.

  30. David Smith says:

    galerimo writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63540 ) :

    // We seem to be still stuck in this anthropocentric world view that stops us from showing the same concern for the extinction of many species, besides our own.

    There are few in our Catholic tradition who seem to realise how abortion and other, not so voluntary means of dying, are also part of processes of elimination of sacred life.

    We ourselves can be the means of killing off the flora and fauna, the environment of air and waterways, the atmospheres and life systems of other kind, while sounding off on our Judaea-Christian pro-life values. //

    I understand that way of looking at things, and, in a way, I sympathize with it. But it seems to me a dream world where everything is perfectly balanced and everyone is happy all the time. There’s no pain, no stress, no sorrow, no death. Real, waking life is and can never be like that. It’s fine for utopian communities to try it, I suppose, but it’s not at all fine for almost all of us. Everything in its place, galerimo.

  31. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63536 ) :

    // ““The sanctity of life, the fifth commandment, the slippery slope, materialism, utilitarianism, atheism, agnosticism, technocracy, democracy, majoritarianism, totalitarianism, the mature conscience, schism, sacrifice, obedience, respect for God in the human being, free will, morality, immorality, Catholicism?””

    To me this list of ‘isms’ is a bit like a bag of labels. Each label, take totalitarianism’ for example represents a great tangle of stuff which may form a backdrop to the situation potential suicide, call them X, finds themselves in, but is largely irrelevant to the choice before them.
    The choice X faces is very simple. Will X swallow the tablets? jump off the cliff,? smother his father with the pillow when asked?..or what? Will X act or will X go to sleep /get drunk instead? In other words the choice before X has little to do with technocracy, democracy, totalitarianism, nor is it much concerned with a mature conscience. X stands there, probably in a state of emotional turmoil possibly masked by a cold rationality, X needs to make a decision. //

    Decisions are not made on the spur of the moment; they are arrived at by a lifetime of conditioning, conscious and unconscious. What we believe determines how we act.

    • ignatius says:

      David writes:
      “Decisions are not made on the spur of the moment; they are arrived at by a lifetime of conditioning, conscious and unconscious. What we believe determines how we act.”

      We would probably part company here David. At the very last moment the human freedom to act kicks in. People refuse to act as ‘expected’ and the received socialisation etc does not entirely condition the human will. This is precisely the point , David. In the end you have the choice to accept or deny an imperative. Of course the line is not clear but that is not to say it does not exist, if that were true then there would be no humanity in its deeper sense and no decision could be made out of free will. Actually I do not believe that you would be 100% committed to your own proposition as stated above either!

      • ignatius says:

        Just to add this:
        It is often said that in a battle between the desire and the Will it is generally the desire that wins out. There is a level of our being which is not only ‘unconscious’ but isn’t remotely interested in rationality, we call this level ‘visceral’ This level, the well spring of being if you like, is as much involved in our acting out as anything else; human beings are fundamentally a mystery even unto themselves at times.

  32. Geordie says:

    I find it difficult to understand the difference between ‘cynical’ and ‘realistic’. I used to be concerned when people called me “cynical” but now I don’t mind at all.

  33. David Smith says:

    Geordie writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63548 ) :

    // I find it difficult to understand the difference between ‘cynical’ and ‘realistic’. I used to be concerned when people called me “cynical” but now I don’t mind at all. //

    Curiously, that happened to me just the other day, in connection with the question of trusting authority. I explained in response to being asked why I was so cynical that in this increasingly abstract and even imaginary culture, words no longer have what used to be their literal meanings, and that that requires thoughtful people to learn to decipher the routine dishonesty into something usefully close to what in even the recent past would have been considered its true meaning. Well, I *would* have replied in those words if I’d thought of them. As it was, I said something like, “In this increasingly mechanized world, you find that you’re no longer speaking to people but to people acting the part of cogs in the bureaucratic machinery. They say and probably think what the script tells them to say and think. In my parents’ world, sixty years ago, when something went wrong, you could speak with a person who could set it right. No longer. Now, if you hope to have a chance of getting it fixed, you have to learn the language of the machine and input it at the appropriate portal.” Well, even that is more articulate than what I did say, although it’s closer. But I’m afraid I was speaking to empty air. My listener likely thought I was more than a little mentally warped. Those who are fashioning the dominant modern culture in the West today simply think very differently from me. No meaningful dialogue is possible between us.

    Such is the world we live in. I’m inclined to be sympathetic to American writer Rod Dreher’s call for forming “intentional communities” of like-minded folk in a world increasingly and aggressively hostile to traditional reasoning and morality. Dreher’s addressing specifically the needs of traditional Christians, but the idea has a wider appeal, and he elaborates on that a little in a recent book.

  34. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes (

    // David writes:
    “Decisions are not made on the spur of the moment; they are arrived at by a lifetime of conditioning, conscious and unconscious. What we believe determines how we act.”

    We would probably part company here David. At the very last moment the human freedom to act kicks in. //

    Yes, I guess we do part company. Although I resist accepting at face value that you believe that suicide is always or even usually an act done purely in the moment, a sort of knee-jerk response akin to a sudden outburst of anger. It seems to me far more likely to have been thought about considerably beforehand. Surely, the way modern states have been doing state-supported euthanasia *requires* the prospective suicide to mull things over in advance, since he is obliged to provide the bureaucracy with an explanation of intention that will lead to his being granted the necessary assistance of an approved executioner.

  35. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63550 ) :

    // It is often said that in a battle between the desire and the Will it is generally the desire that wins out. //

    If it’s often said, that may because it’s often wished by the sayer or because the statisticians report that the poll takers say it. In either case, it may indicate no more than that the current culture approves of the notion that the will is weak. And if the current culture approves of it, approval is likely to lead to the will being allowed to become weak. It’s circular.

    The will need not be weak. One of the traditional goals of Christianity is to teach and encourage the individual to develop a strong will against a temptation to slide into moral sloth, no?

  36. ignatius says:

    “The will need not be weak. One of the traditional goals of Christianity is to teach and encourage the individual to develop a strong will against a temptation to slide into moral sloth, no?”

    This being so then tell me why, in my local prison, do I have a thriving flock of Catholics? Many who commit crime, particularly sex offenders, cannot give a coherent explaination for their actions try though they may. Ifact these persons often despise what they have done.

    “Yes, I guess we do part company. Although I resist accepting at face value that you believe that suicide is always or even usually an act done purely in the moment, a sort of knee-jerk response akin to a sudden outburst of anger.”

    That is not what I have argued. As I say I was involved for several years with Samaritans which is a UK telephone line for those in despair and contemplating suicide. You are correct in identifying that a thought process goes before; of course it must, no one suddenly decides to jump off the bridge on the way to the library . In fact one of the first lines of approach to the suicidal person is to reassure that suicidal thoughts are not particularly abnormal and do not, in the main, lead to action. But the particular line the thought processes take, though apparently rational, are in fact, often seriously disordered and needy of challenge – I am speaking very generally here of course- isn’t the thought process but the self hating despair and exhaustion into which the person has slipped that causes the final trigger.

    “If it’s often said, that may because it’s often wished by the sayer or because the statisticians report that the poll takers say it. In either case, it may indicate no more than that the current culture approves of the notion that the will is weak. And if the current culture approves of it, approval is likely to lead to the will being allowed to become weak. It’s circular.”

    This is simplistic to say the very least!! .

  37. milliganp says:

    Ignatius writes

    “This being so then tell me why, in my local prison, do I have a thriving flock of Catholics? Many who commit crime, particularly sex offenders, cannot give a coherent explanation for their actions try though they may. In fact these persons often despise what they have done.”

    I did a brief stint at prison visiting and had a number of conversation with the priest who was, at the time, the head Catholic Chaplain for England and Wales. He taught me to be slightly skeptical of any professed religiosity by inmates. Being imprisoned can create a ‘victim mentality’ in prisoners who often understate the seriousness of their crimes and overstate the severity of their sentences. It was his experience that, sadly, most prisoners recommit offence on release and prisoners who are regular attenders in prison rarely head for their local Catholic church on release.

    Certain bad behaviors have a compulsive dimension which is why priests would seek, in the confessional, to understand the exact culpability of the individual for the sins they had committed. However men who beat their wives when they get drunk should look to control their drinking if they cannot control their fists.

    It is easy to use the example of compulsive sex offenders because of the particular nature of their condition but one could not say the same of murderers, burglars or violent thugs.

    I think David Smith makes a valid point that the convergence of materialistic reductionism and often slightly cod psychology makes eveyrone a mere victim of the atoms in their brain rather than creature infused with intellect and free will oriented towards the good of the God who made us.

  38. milliganp says:

    David Smith wrote:-

    “If it’s often said, that may because it’s often wished by the sayer or because the statisticians report that the poll takers say it. In either case, it may indicate no more than that the current culture approves of the notion that the will is weak. And if the current culture approves of it, approval is likely to lead to the will being allowed to become weak. It’s circular.”

    I do believe the point you made is valid. I often make the point that while the first sin was Adam and Eve eating the fruit the second sin was Adam trying to excuse himself by saying “The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

    The entire focus of modern western culture is self-gratification whereas the message of the Gospel is oriented to self-denial. We may need to be careful in how we express this. Jesus was forthright “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

  39. ignatius says:

    Milliganp writes
    “I think David Smith makes a valid point that the convergence of materialistic reductionism and often slightly cod psychology makes eveyrone a mere victim of the atoms in their brain rather than creature infused with intellect and free will oriented towards the good of the God who made us.”

    Think carefully through the implications of what you are saying. What about MilliganP? Is MilliganP a mere victim of the atoms in his own brain? Is this MilliganP’s really genuinely held belief of himself? If not , what is it that seperates MilliganP from the rest of poor toiling humanity? Me thinks this is just hyperbole speaking.

    “It is easy to use the example of compulsive sex offenders because of the particular nature of their condition but one could not say the same of murderers, burglars or violent thugs.”

    Alas, sex offenders are quite often also burglars and violent thugs. Also murder is quite often sexualised..In the sex offenders prison where I worked I met and drank tea with all of the above categories. I also worked in a Young offenders/remand institute which was a bit like the Wild West yet also had a church contingent. The point is not about prisons per sec but was put as a riposte to Davids contention:
    “The will need not be weak. One of the traditional goals of Christianity is to teach and encourage the individual to develop a strong will against a temptation to slide into moral sloth, no?”

    In other words the idea of a strong will is countered by the EVIDENCE all around of pretty universal human weakness in the face of its desires. The original point was one I made earlier about the human will being subject to its desires, without human desire there is little to will or act about.

    The reason I fundamentally disagree with both of you now is that your line of intention leads to say that human beings are not human and were not made in the image of God but are simply malleable electrons simply taking the form required by the dominant culture/ thoughtform/ ideology. This line of thinking is superficial and one which denigrates us all. Think for example of all who oppose vicious regimes and stand up for good even though no personal good will come of it.

    • milliganp says:

      Ignatius you seem to have firmly gripped the wrong end of the stick. My point was entirely the opposite – I was criticizing the modern materialistic view that we do not have free will.
      Apropos some of your other point, the fact that 95%+ of men never abuse children or rape women indicates that will is capable of mastering desire.

      There are plenty of people who like food but are not gluttons or who enjoy a beer without ever becoming drunk. Plenty of people from the older generations (and a few from younger) have managed to remain celibate outside marriage or faithful to their partner within.

      The problem with our current culture is that it affirms that all desire is good, especially in the realm of sexual desire.

      However, the original theme of this discussion was suicide in the context of assisted suicide to end life at a point where it seems to loose value to the modern world, degenerative illnesses, dementia and sever physical or mental disability.

      This is an essentially different discussion as it is about creating a legal framework where ending life is allowed, and will inevitably, via the effect of moral thin wedges, be required.

  40. ignatius says:

    Ah well, plenty of room on the wrong end of the stick!
    “Apropos some of your other point, the fact that 95%+ of men never abuse children or rape women indicates that will is capable of mastering desire.”
    Yes of course. Wholesome desire is what brings forth wholesomeness and we should and do celebrate it. Most of us apply our wills to obtain that object of our desire which is essentially speaking a ‘happy life’..in other words one which is well governed ..’A roof over the head , gainful labour a settled family life with a warm partner’ But the object of our desire may change and then our will become focused upon it…Might be a change of job, location, partner or whatever. Enough of this anyway!

  41. Alan says:

    milliganp – “Apropos some of your other point, the fact that 95%+ of men never abuse children or rape women indicates that will is capable of mastering desire.”

    I enjoy the occasional drink but I’ve not been drunk for decades now. As far as I can tell this isn’t a mastering of desire on my part though. It is a competing desire to remain sober that’s wins out. Some years ago I repeatedly ran through in my mind the harm I would have liked to inflict upon a nuisance neighbour who moved in next to us. Instead we sold our house and moved away. I don’t think I would put that down to any strength of character either. There was a competing desire not to make the situation worse for myself or my wife. I have no sense of an act of will keeping in check a desire to abuse children either. With the exception of the odd noise nuisance living nearby, I usually desire not to abuse people.

    Outside of those that do and haven’t been caught yet, are there really that many people amongst the 95% whose overriding desire is to abuse children and/or rape women?

    I think it was Penn Jillette who commented that he had already “Raped and murdered all the people that he wanted to”

    • ignatius says:

      “I think it was Penn Jillette who commented that he had already “Raped and murdered all the people that he wanted to”

      Ha ha! Me too!! Very good.

  42. David Smith says:

    I wanted to add a thought about the supposed differences between desire and will. In an important sense, they’re the same thing.

    There’s no need to get hung up on an imagined difference being that desire is entirely instinctive and will is purely a matter of resisting desire. If I have a strong preference for, say, chocolate ice cream it’s only because I’ve been *conditioned* to prefer it. There is, I presume, no gene that predisposes me to prefer chocolate over vanilla. Rather, I’ve had lots of occasions early in life when chocolate in various forms has been made available to me and I’ve learned that the adults and the older children around me have shown a strong liking for it. Similarly, there is – I presume – no gene that predisposes me to rob, rape, or murder. If I desire to do those things, it’s because I’ve *learned* – been *conditioned* – to desire to do them. If later in life I find that if I rob, rape, or murder I’ll be in great danger of being rejected, even severely punished, by the people with whom I have come to prefer to spend my life, I may “reform” and condition myself to find other outlets for these desires. That reforming will be a conscious re-conditioning of my will. Thus, unconscious conditioning will be replaced by conscious conditioning. Will becomes preference.

  43. David Smith says:

    It looks as though the law in the UK *may* be about to change:

    Click to access euth-uk.pdf

  44. David Smith says:

    Well, that dodn’t work. Try something else.

    http://luda.net/images/telegraph-stories/

  45. ignatius says:

    “All requests would be subject to approval from two
    independent doctors and a High Court judge with the
    person granted a prescription for medication they would
    take themselves.” “Take themselves” would be the key issue.
    Its only a private bill as yet though.

  46. David Smith says:

    ignatius writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63916 ) :

    // “Take themselves” would be the key issue. //

    I’d say it’s probably *a* key issue in the effort to get it made law but not a key issue in principle. It’s handing a loaded gun to a person who has said he wants to kill himself and walking away.

    It’s my understanding that generally under American law someone actively encouraging a suicide – outside the regime prescribed by the law in states that permit euthanasia – is liable to be imprisoned. Anyone who both encourages and enables suicide is clearly complicit in and ethically responsible for the death.

  47. David Smith says:

    Alasdair writes ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63902 ) :

    // On my trips to the USA in recent years (not the most recent years obviously) I was unable to find news out of Britain (nor indeed out of my wife’s native Italy). It was a surreal. //

    I imagine that America has always been a culturally insular country. We’re separated by five thousand miles of water from Europe and by ten thousand miles of water from Asia. We have only two land borders, both with nations that pose no military threat. We live effectively on a very big island; oceans and unthreatening land borders in themselves practically impose some mental insularity. Imagine for a moment how close Britain would feel to Europe if the Channel were as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. Then there are size and population. We’re more than three hundred million people and a little under four million square miles. And there are wealth and economic power. All of this predisposes us to thinking of the rest of the world as “somewhere out there”. That’s changed in some ways and to some extent with electronic communications, but perhaps not as much as one might expect and certainly not as much as one might hope.

  48. ignatius says:

    I once hitchhiked ‘Way across the USA’ from Baja California to New York. Impossible then not to get a sense of the vastness, splendour, challenge and diversity of the States. I remember thinking ..” Why would they need to bother with the rest of the world when most of it is here! “

  49. David Smith says:

    I wrote ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63902 ) :

    // We’re separated by five thousand miles of water from Europe and by ten thousand miles of water from Asia. //

    Wrong on Europe and way wrong on Asia. My ashamed apologies. The distance from Boston to London is only a little more than three thousand miles. The distance from Boston to Tokyo is something less than seven thousand miles. Since the width of the US is something less than three thousand miles, subtracting three from seven would make the American west coast only about four thousand miles from Tokyo. All these are approximate numbers, but probably, as we used to say where I worked, good enough for government work. Sigh.

  50. David Smith says:

    I wrote ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63931 ) :

    //
    I wrote ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63902 ) :

    // We’re separated by five thousand miles of water from Europe and by ten thousand miles of water from Asia. //
    //

    Sigh. That URL should have been https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63922 .

    Senior moment? Freudian slip? Who can say? Onward.

  51. David Smith says:

    In the previous post ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63931 ), the URL should have been ( https://secondsightblog.net/2021/05/05/2477/#comment-63922 ).

    Confused? Me, too. My apologies. Senior moment? Freudian slip? Who can know? Onward.

  52. pnyikos says:

    // While I am confident that that my family will be faithful in their care right up to my natural death, I fear that I will feel guilty at taking so much, and, by then, contributing so little. How would you feel? //

    Quentin, this is only tangential to the subject, but your comment above emboldens me to ask: what will happen to Second Sight when you are too infirm to continue it? Are you trying to find someone who can be your successor? I hope you are: if you find one, then I’d say you need not worry about contributing `so little’. You will have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

    And if your successor is half as good as you, I will keep contributing to Second Sight if I can, and much more frequently than I have so far in 2021.

    In fact, I turned down an offer to teach a summer course so that I can devote a lot of time to catching up with obligations and engage more frequently in activities like writing to Second Sight.

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